Judge dismisses consultants’ call for mistrial in Flint water crisis case
FLINT, MI — A federal judge presiding over a bellwether civil trial related to the Flint water crisis has dismissed a request for a mistrial, calling it “wholly without merit.”
U.S. District Court Judge Judith E. Levy, who rejected the request when the oral motion was made earlier this week, expanded on it in an order published Wednesday, May 18.
The call for a mistrial came from Veolia North America and was joined by Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, two consultants being sued by four Flint children who claim the companies were negligent while advising the city of Flint during the water crisis.
The children’s case is considered a bellwether trial because it is the first to test the potential liability of the engineering companies for the water crisis.
In asking for the mistrial, Veolia and LAN claimed they were incurably prejudiced by testimony from Gary Crakes, an expert witness who told the 10-person jury hearing the case about the difference between “discounted” and “undiscounted” damage awards.
Michigan law requires that in personal injury claims that future damages be “discounted” to present cash value. The task of discounting is the duty of the trial judge — not the jury, Levy’s order says.
Crakes testified about the difference between the two types of future damage awards and provided estimates of the four children’s potential lost earning capacity because of damages they claim they suffered by drinking Flint water.
In each case, future damages amounted to millions of dollars for each child.
Levy’s order says Veolia and LAN “do not come close to meeting (the) standard for a mistrial.”
“Indeed, they have provided no authority whatsoever to suggest that … Crakes’ testimony was ‘erroneously admitted’ at all,” the judge’s order says. The companies’ motion for a mistrial, she said, is “based exclusively on an asserted rule of Michigan law which simply does not exist.”
In a footnote to the order, Levy said Veolia and LAN “arguably engaged in frivolous motion practice” in requesting the mistrial.
The water crisis civil trial was put on hold earlier this week after one of the jurors hearing the case tested positive for COVID-19.
The trial is expected to resume on Monday, May 23.
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